Auckland debut for martial arts extravaganza
The biggest show in global mixed martial arts - the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) - is coming to New Zealand.
The UFC, which is believed to be worth more than US$2.5 billion (NZ$2.9b) globally, will hold its first-ever fight event on Kiwi shores on June 28 at Auckland's Vector Arena.
Darfield-born middleweight James Te Huna will take part in the main fight on the event's card, fighting American Nate Marquardt.
Te Huna is one of three Kiwis in the UFC, along with former K-1 world champion Mark Hunt and middleweight Dylan Andrews.
Fairfax Media understands that Andrews, who originally hails from Wellington, is eager to join the Auckland fight card.
It is not known how much of a money-spinner the event will be, but with an international audience likely to be in the millions, broadcast revenue could be massive.
Te Huna said the event would be a turning point for mixed martial arts in New Zealand.
"It's massive. I think a lot of people in New Zealand have been waiting for the UFC to come," he said.
"It's going to make a big impact. Kiwis have always loved contact sports.
"Hopefully it will influence other Polynesian kids to create a goal, and make a pathway in the sport.
"I think we will see more fighters come through the ranks, and more people turning to martial arts once they learn about the sport."
Tom Wright, the UFC's managing director for Canada, Australia and New Zealand, visited New Zealand last year, and inspected Vector Arena as a possible venue.
"We are very excited about the UFC's debut event in New Zealand," he said.
"This country has a proud and successful combat sports history, and certainly punches above its weight with representation in the UFC."
UFC has always had its critics, with United States senator John McCain once describing the sport as "human cockfighting".
Following Hunt's bloody fight with Brazilian heavyweight Antonio "Big Foot" Silva last December in Brisbane, one Australian newspaper branded the UFC as a "disgrace".
Te Huna said mixed martial arts will always have its detractors, but hoped New Zealanders see the UFC as a legitimate sport.
"Once they learn more about the athletes, they will see we are professional athletes," the 32-year-old former bricklayer said.
"Take myself: I don't drink, I don't smoke and I've never been in a street fight in my whole life. I was exposed to violence a little bit when I was young, but I am not a violent person.
"Everyone who knows me knows I stick to my goals and treat others how they want to be treated. Martial arts has always helped me in life."
The UFC, which has its headquarters in Las Vegas, has held several events in Australia since its first there in February 2010.